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A Sellout for Local Control

Shouldn’t the newly christened Heritage Valley have an American Heritage River? A congressman from Santa Clarita didn’t think so, and his opposition has spiked efforts to have the Santa Clara River so designated under a program that could have given local governments along the waterway easier access to federal money and other resources.

In a letter asking the selection agency to exclude the Los Angeles County stretch of the river from consideration, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) gave as one reason, “I have always felt that the best way to improve our environmental quality is from locally driven actions.”

That’s a predictable view for a man who was the founding mayor of Santa Clarita, where “local control” is the municipal battle cry. But it’s ironic in this case because the Heritage River campaign was a grass-roots effort started by local environmental groups, championed by Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, endorsed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the cities of Santa Paula and Santa Clarita and the California Coastal Commission, among others. Opposing the designation was the Newhall Land & Farming Co., the developer planning the Newhall Ranch project.

Winding 85 miles from the Angeles National Forest to the Pacific, the Santa Clara is often called the last wild river in Southern California. It is home to endangered species such as the unarmored three-spined stickleback fish and the Southern steelhead trout. Two-thirds of the river lies in Ventura County, where cities along its banks have just launched a campaign to promote the Santa Clara River Valley as “Heritage Valley” with emphasis on rural and history-related tourism. But the top third of the river lies in Los Angeles County, in McKeon’s 25th Congressional District.

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The designation would not have offered new environmental protections or direct funding for the river but would have assigned a federal employee to work with local groups to help secure government money.

That won’t happen now, because the action of a single politician in Washington has trumped the collective desires of community and environmental leaders in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Local control in this case got sold down the river.


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